Outer Hip Muscle Stretches for Low Back Pain Relief

Muscles located at the side of the hip, which include the gluteus medius, piriformis, and hip external rotator muscles contribute to posture and the well-being of your lower back. When these muscles get tight, as they often do, you may develop hip pain and lower back pain.

Tight outer hip muscles, also known as the hip abductors, can pull on the pelvis and slightly alter its position; this, in turn, may influence the muscles that support the alignment of your spine.

The key is not to allow yourself to develop spinal misalignment. The best way to deal with low back pain that is caused or complicated by tight outer hip muscles is to stretch the muscles.

There are a number of ways to release and stretch these key posture muscles, and the most important thing is that you use them regularly. 


Stretch Your Outer Thigh Muscles

Sometimes the most basic outer hip stretch is all you need. This beginner move may get you started releasing your hip abductor muscles. And going forward, it may well become a staple exercise in your regular routine.

Here's how:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Bend one leg at the hip to bring it up toward your chest; repeat this move with the other leg.
  3. Once both legs are up, place the ankle of one leg onto the thigh of the other, just above the knee. 
  4. Try to keep the knee of your stretched-out leg from inching its way toward the center of your body. Why? Because it puts that hip in a position where the muscle is no longer challenged to lengthen. Keeping the knee pointed outward—without unduly forcing it—is what focuses the stretch in the hip. 
  5. Stay in the stretch for about 30 seconds, to a degree that feels like something is happening but is not painful.
  6. Repeat on the other side. These stretches should be repeated at least three times per leg, for 30 seconds each.

Adapted Seated Spinal Twist

Young adults doing side stretch in mat class
PhotoAlto/Eric Audras / Getty Images

You can adapt a spinal twisting move so that it also provides a gentle release for your outer hip.

If you have back problems, ask your healthcare provider or physical therapist if it's OK to rotate your spine before trying this.

Here's how:

  1. Begin by sitting with both legs extended straight in front of you. Lean back and support your body weight by putting your hands on the floor behind you. Another way to get the same effect is to do the twist with your back against a wall.
  2. Bring one leg over the opposite thigh, and place the foot on the floor. Your top leg/foot should cross over your extended bottom leg near your knee.
  3. Extend the arm that is on the same side as your outstretched leg, and place it so your elbow will press against the outside of your bent knee. Your forearm will be parallel to your lower leg.
  4. Use your outstretched arm to press your knee away from the center of your body, thereby accentuating the spinal rotation and the concurrent hip stretch. As you do this, think about dropping your hip back down to the floor, with the ultimate goal of having both sitting bones contacting the floor equally.
  5. The combination of dropping your hip and pushing your knee away from your body may increase hip release action. You'll also likely feel a stretch in your low back. This is due to the rotation that is very much a part of the exercise.
  6. Stay in the stretch for at least 30 seconds, unless the position brings on any pain.
  7. Repeat the exercise on the other side.

Strengthen the Adductors

Stretch hip abductors by strengthening hip adductors.

nikitabuida/Deposit Photos

And now for some strategy. Along with stretches and adapted yoga moves, another way to release chronic tension from your outer hip muscles is to work and strengthen your inner thighs.

This technique is more subtle than the previous exercises, but strong inner thigh muscles (called adductors) may contribute to overall outer hip flexibility.

Here's how:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Place a small softball in between your knees.
  3. Squeeze and release.
  4. Repeat about 10-15 times.
  5. Do up to 3 sets once or twice per day.

Balance with Abductor Strengthening

Mature Woman Doing Leg Lifts
vgajic / Getty Images.

As you’re working on strengthening your inner leg muscles (the adductors), for balance you’ll also want to incorporate moves to strengthen your outer hip muscles (the abductors).

Leg lifts are a great way to reach your outer hip muscles.

Here’s how:

  1. Lie on your left side, using your left arm to support your torso at whatever height feels most comfortable (for example, you can place your elbow on the floor so you’re in a half-reclining position, or rest your head in your hand for a more challenging pose).
  2. The bottom leg—the left in this case—can be extended straight, or bent at the knee to help you keep your balance.
  3. Holding your right (top) leg straight, lift it from the hip. A key here is to make sure that your leg is lifted in line with your torso or slightly behind it--not ever coming in front of the body.
  4. Hold your lifted leg for one to three seconds, or to your comfort level.
  5. Lower your leg to the floor, and repeat.
  6. Try one set of 10 leg lifts to start, increasing repetitions or sets as you’re able.
  7. Now perform the same exercise lying on your right side. 
2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lee SW, Kim SY. Effects of hip exercises for chronic low-back pain patients with lumbar instability. J Phys Ther Sci. 2015;27(2):345-8. doi:10.1589/jpts.27.345

  2. Hrysomallis C. Hip adductors' strength, flexibility, and injury risk. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(5):1514-7. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181a3c6c4

By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.